The Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, told a London Jewish audience this week that Holocaust denial and hate speech were “off limits”.
In a wide-ranging interview at JW3 with the BBC Daily Politics presenter Jo Coburn, for the René Cassin human rights group, Sir Keir spoke passionately about international human rights legislation which had evolved in the wake of the Holocaust.
He made it clear that there were two levels of human rights, “absolute” and “qualified”. And, responding to a question from the audience, the MP said that free speech fell into the “qualified” category. “Free speech has limits and they have to be adhered to”, he said.
Holocaust denial and hate speech were “off limits”, but “free speech is a qualified right, and the idea of complete free speech is not a proper understanding of what human rights are”.
Although he believed, he said, that the former London mayor Ken Livingstone should have been expelled from the Labour Party rather than suspended, he welcomed the rule change within the party adopted at the party conference. And, responding to criticism of party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Sir Keir declared: “Be fair and judge what you see. Watch what’s happening, and keep an open mind”.
The former Director of Public Prosecutions also spoke at length about Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, saying he saw no prospect of a reversal of Brexit. He said Labour’s job was to “challenge, challenge, challenge” in order to get the best deal possible for Britain’s departure from the EU.
Urging “respect” from those who had voted Remain towards those who had voted Leave, Sir Keir nevertheless deplored the way in which the government was handling the Brexit negotiations. He accused it of using the three million EU citizens in Britain as “a bargaining chip” and was scornful of the “it’ll be all right” attitude displayed by the Brexit Secretary, MP David Davis.